Manic Attack

December 2016

Screaming. Excruciatingly desperate. Dangerously loud. Pain expressed with every sound; helplessness released with every breath.

I sit up in my bed, surrounded by darkness. The sun starts peeking between the curtains of the bedroom. I look around, trying to figure out where the damn screeching is coming from. I was perfectly content pretending I was dead. Sleep is the only thing that relaxes me now. The only thing I crave within my aimless, and honestly pathetic, existence.

But this stupid bawling freak ruined everything.

I feel tears falling freely from my squinting eyes, down my hot cheeks, to the covers of the bed.

Lethal silence.

The screaming resumes. I cover my ears, begging the horrific sound to stop. I feel it piercing through my skin, so I start scratching, my arms and my chest and my back, trying to get it out.

Stop.

Stop.

STOP.

PLEASE. I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY LONGER.

I realize that the sound is coming out of me. And I cannot stop.

I don’t feel like me. I feel like a ghost, completely dissociated from me the human. I imagine myself getting out of bed, but I don’t feel my legs moving. I examine the room, in which I have resided for the past week, but recognize nothing. I suddenly stop screaming. I don’t know why I do, but I do. The pain remains. The kind of pain that rests deep within your soul. The kind of howling pain that, try as you might, you cannot claw out of your broken body. The pain that no one else sees, no one else feels. No one who hasn’t felt it can comprehend it. I truly believe I am alone. Not literally: my mom is in the kitchen, frantically throwing things into her purse. Keys, medication, breakfast, medication, water bottle, medication, medication, medication. All mine.

But though I am not literally by myself, I am alone in my brain. I cannot let anyone else in. My brain is too scary, too messed up for the real world. And try as I might, I can’t get it to just shut the hell up.

SHUT UP.

Ouch. Thinking hurts too much. My eyes widen, and I purse my lips. Now I feel nothing. Nada. Zilch. There it is again, my favorite escape mechanism: sudden nothingness.

My mom picks up her coat, hands me mine, and quietly pleads with me to leave this depressing basement. We’ve rented an Airbnb since my last really big panic attack, so that I can still go to school. The single room apartment is dark and has “just a little rodent problem,” the owner tells us after we’ve put in our deposit. But I cannot stand to be anywhere else. I barely get to class each day, and only because my mom drives me to and from.

I want to be locked away in this basement home indefinitely.

My mom drives us to CVS to pick up my latest medication refill.

Classic teen angst, right?

         The feelings will go away soon, right?

         Just be grateful for all that you have.

         Snap out of it.

         This is your fault.

I cover my ears, but the voices in my head are stubborn. They won’t leave me alone, no matter how hard I try to shush them.

Since my diagnosis, I have swum through a sea of drug and dose changes, but no luck. Yet. They continue to convince me—the therapists and the psychiatrists—that the pills will fix something, somehow, some day. They supposedly fix everyone else. So despite my lack of results, I take my meds religiously. Because I want that something, somehow, some day, so damn badly. I want a taste of normalcy. I want to experience happiness again.

I don’t know if I will experience happiness again.

I don’t know if I can wait for happiness to knock on my door and invite me back into its warm, loving grasp.

I don’t know if I have ever really experienced true happiness before. Ever.

I think I give up.

After glancing at my swollen, pitiful face, my mom decides to run inside CVS herself. She is unable to hide her utter confusion. And fear. She promises to be back “as soon as possible.” She grabs five empty orange bottles, all with perfectly white tops, all of which attempt to fix my brokenness:

 

  • 40mg of Prozac, an SSRI antidepressant, which means it keeps serotonin in my brain longer, and is the main mode of attack for my depression, sans success thus far
  • And 25mg of Oleptro, an SARI antidepressant, which also keeps serotonin in my brain longer, but most importantly is the only reason I sleep at night, and this sleep is vital to my existence, and I understand why this drug is highly addictive, because blacking out at this point is highly addictive
  • And 25mg of Atarax, an antihistamine, which should put me to sleep but does not, and which should calm my anxiety but does not
  • And 50mg of Elavil, a tricyclic antidepressant, which theoretically prevents headaches
  • And 10mg of Rizatriptan, which constricts blood vessels in my brain to relieve migraines, but I am not supposed to take this drug right now, because it is dangerous with my other meds, and can induce serotonin syndrome

 

Serotonin syndrome…what did my psychiatrist say about serotonin syndrome? Oh right. Serotonin syndrome is this very, very bad, not good, bad, toxic range of symptoms that occur due to, somewhat obviously, too much serotonin in the brain. It is a life-threatening condition at its worst, but its warning signs mimic the symptoms I’ve presented for months, so I do not think I have too much serotonin.

I thought I didn’t have enough serotonin.

Because if I had enough, I would be happy.

Right?

The panic attacks prove it, but I still do not know that serotonin syndrome is officially at full force.

I shake and my heart races and my blood pressure skyrockets and my pupils permanently dilate, but this is all just part of my day, everyday. I am just crazy, and I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but I know I am. Don’t blame the drugs; only blame me.

The night before, I swallowed 4 Atarax, 2 Oleptro, and an Elavil in a desperate attempt to sleep, perhaps forever. I would have taken more, but my mom closely monitors my medication consumption, so that’s that. But despite my drug concoction, I tossed and turned all night and shouted and bawled all morning.

My mom knows that something is terribly wrong, even worse than usual, so after CVS she drives me to my therapist. I feel defeated; even my mom cannot console me. I am a useless daughter, more of a struggle than a light in my parents’ life. My guilt is too powerful.

I repeat my dad’s words like a mantra. “The only thing we have to do is keep you safe.”

But that doesn’t stop my brain from screaming.

Misdiagnosed With Depression: Panic Attacks Part 2

November 2016

I am one month into my antidepressants when my psychiatrist tells me she has not seen any improvement in my “condition.” She doubles my dose of Prozac to 40mg, which, by the way, induces a hell of a lot of serotonin into one little tiny depressed body. I glare at her. I’m pissed that I’m not fixed yet. I’m pissed that she hasn’t fixed me yet. I stomp out of her office, like a little kid, and head to the bar, like a big kid. My friend and I each order a pitcher of hard cider, and I try my best to drink away my anger. My impatience. My frustration. My resentment. And, secretly, my fear. But I would never admit to feeling that feeling. That feeling is weak. That feeling is vulnerable. I am not weak. I am not vulnerable.

We down three glassfuls apiece. Then I leave to celebrate one of my sorority’s sister’s birthdays. By now the up of my intoxication cancels out the low of my not-fixed-yet-ication. I smile widely, feeling as good as ever, getting excited because my sorority sister does not know we are throwing her a surprise party, but here we are, throwing her a surprise party! Surprise! I cannot taste anything that I put into my mouth anymore. I have a cup of flavored liquor that someone keeps refilling. Maybe I’m the someone who keeps refilling. Potāto, Potäto. I cannot see straight, but I don’t care. I am just having some good, clean, college fun. I haven’t felt this good, clean, college in forever.

We hide, red solos in hand, and wait for a knock on the door.

My sorority sister shows up at her apartment, where we are all waiting, if you’ve forgotten, and the festivities begin. I am falling all over the place—wearing heels wasn’t the best idea—but someone always picks me back up. I am swirling and twirling my body, to match the swirling and twirling of my brain.

Until…

Until?

Until I feel my heart speeding up. Until I feel my stomach clenching tighter and tighter. Until I feel the impending doom.

I thought I was safe.

Just for tonight.

But everything hurts.

Everything hurts just as vividly, just as intensely, just as fully and totally as the first time.

I run out the door and try to close it behind me, hoping no one sees me leave. I don’t want to ruin the party. I stare at the walls outside the apartment, feeling dizzy and tired and completely hopeless. My head aches, and I wait for the tears to come, but my face remains dry. I keep staring.

One by one, people come out to check on me. I wave them away, “I’m fine I’m fine,” but a few are persistent. Someone picks me up off the floor and takes me home. I shake in her arms.

I am sat down on my bed. My shoes are removed. My shirt is pulled up over my head. I am put in pajamas and laid down. My covers consume me. Advil and a water bottle are placed on my bedside table. But I cannot stop shaking.

I call my parents over and over again, I need their help, but it is midnight, and their phones are off. My friend rubs my back and plays with my hair and tells me it is all right; they will call me back first thing in the morning. The tears finally fall. Hard. A torrential downpour. The Great Flood.

I cannot breathe.

I cannot see.

I cannot think.

I cannot exist.

I shake and shake until the alcohol consumes me, and I pass away into heavy, inky black oblivion.

The next morning, before I wake up out of my hung-over slumber, my parents call me back, over and over again, but it is 8:00am, and my phone is off. Eventually I wake up, and eventually I answer my mom. After about five minutes of my exhausted, unintelligible moans, she decides that she will come up to school to be with me, no matter how long the trek, no matter how long she needs to stay. She leaves our home, and—tick tock, tick tock—14 hours later she arrives.

We live out of a hotel room, textbooks and moldy cheese and empty water bottles strewn about. I feel like a pig, but I cannot return to my apartment without anxiety taking over my fragile existence. Just the thought of the memories made there induces a death-defying panic attack. I become sick to my stomach, my body preparing myself for my next dreadful thought. I quietly cry and pull at my hair, begging my brain to stop.

I attend most of my classes now, but only to appease my mom. Despite my mental “condition,” I excel in most of my exams and papers, using them as an excuse to hyper-concentrate and forget the rest of my miserable life. But when a panic attack hits in the middle of a test, it’s game over. A’s and F’s and nothing in between. I’m stupid for the first time in my life.

*****

Thanksgiving break comes around, but I only use it to further exhaust my mind. At the beginning of the semester, the crazy part of me decided to take ridiculously difficult classes. And the crazier part of me told me I could succeed in all of them simultaneously. Chemistry, Neurobiology, Research Ethics, and Microeconomics are a deadly combination at my school. I drown.

Throughout my “break”, I ignore most of my extended family members’ politically incorrect comments and questions about my “sickness.” Hesitation, confusion, and discomfort fill the air.

On my last day at home, I decide to see a girl who never fails to make me feel better: my 15-year-old, full of spunk and sass, extra chromosome and extra loving Baby-Girl. She is a short statured African American high schooler with Down syndrome, but, more importantly, she is also the love of my life. We met when I was 17, during my first summer working as a camp counselor for children with a wide variety disabilities and illnesses.

Ironically, for the past four years, I’ve been an avid advocate (say that three times fast) for children with autism, Down syndrome, and other developmental delays. I enjoy explaining to people how much neuroscientists and psychologists are learning about the brains of people with mental differences. “Mental health is an exciting and rapidly growing field!” “Now there are brain scans that prove many disabilities exist!” “We are diminishing the stigma!”

I try to tell myself what I always tell my kids: you are different, not less. Different, not less. Different, not less. Never less.

Except my kids are cute and resilient and I’m just depressed.

I wonder if I’ve always been so interested in brains because deep down I knew something was very wrong with mine.

I take my Baby-Girl out for a late lunch. My phone dies, so we go on an adventure to Wal-Mart to pick me out a colorful car charger.

As we walk to the cash register, hand in hand, I get a text that sends me into a panic. Out of nowhere, but not surprisingly at this point, I choke and reach for my throat. My breathing ceases. I take Baby-Girl back to my car, so I can cry silently, blasting music so she doesn’t notice.

I now have tangible proof that something is very wrong with me. My Baby-Girl always cheers me up. Always. Except not today. She giggles and plays with the radio, and I try to crack a smile and a few laughs, to hide the further jagged fracturing of my shrinking heart. But I keep the lights off, so she doesn’t see the teardrops pouring down my face.

After dropping Baby-Girl off, I drive tens of twenties of miles too fast down the interstate, not caring if I crash, and subconsciously hoping I will. I get home and cannot speak. As my family sits at the dinner table, I do not touch my food. I am trying to go back to nothingness. It is a futile attempt. My parents see me devolving and suggest I go to my room, so my brother doesn’t witness the environmental disaster that I am. But my screams echo down the hall, not fooling anyone, a tornado rapidly destroying everything in its presence.

My dad comes in and holds me. He tells me that the only thing we have to do is keep me safe. I don’t have to go back to school. I don’t have to do anything. I can be nothingness for a while, if I want to, if I need to.

He mentions a psychiatric institution for the first time.

I just cry.

In the morning I do not feel better. My mom resolves to come to the airport and back to school with me again. My dad will fly to me later, to continue babysitting me, so I can finish my final exams and come home.

They tell me that I don’t even have to finish my exams.

They tell me I can stop at any time.

I suck in air, the chill flowing through my mouth, down my throat, to my lungs, waking me up.

This chill is the only reminder that I am still alive.

Misdiagnosed With Depression: Panic Attacks

October 2016

I do not know what is happening to me. I have never felt this out of control before. I guess I have been broken, and now there’s nothing else but insanity pouring of me. Everyday I wake up with arms and legs made of bricks, and a bowling ball for a head. I skip one, two, all of my classes, but I cannot sleep for more than an hour at a time. I wake up in an impossibly debilitating panic: my heart beats out of my chest, my hands shake a million miles an hour, my stomach clenches into a microscopic knot, tears waterfall down my face. I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I’m going to die, I CAN’T BREATHE. In these moments I secretly hope my breath never comes back. I hope I explode. I hope my body breaks down; surely it cannot handle the terror much longer.

On my better days, I eventually roll out of bed. On my best days, I change out of my yoga pants and oversized t-shirt. I find my computer, wherever I threw it the night before, and try to do my homework. But my brain slugs along behind the rest of me. Concentration escapes me. I don’t eat; I’m not hungry. I don’t drink; my lips crumble underneath layers of dry skin. I am a desert: parched, empty, devoid of all signs of life. I want a vulture to scoop me up and fly me away and eat me alive. I want to be snapped up inside a venus flytrap, digested, vanished, without a note goodbye.

I don’t yet know it, but the medication that is supposed to keep me alive—not just alive, but fulfilled, satisfied, whole—is ripping me apart from the inside out. I rapidly switch between being stuck in the deepest, darkest hole of depression to exploding out of my skin in the highest, bone-chilling skyline of mania. Any and every trigger sends me back and forth between the two most intense existences I have ever experienced. Sometimes there is no trigger. And sometimes I become both existences at the same time. Shaking with impatience, but unable to move. Racing to the top of the highest mountain, only to fall straight back down.

I am scared of myself. I don’t know what I will do to me.

I am surely dying, but it’s happening so slowly. I don’t think I can wait much longer. I beg the Earth, the sun, the stars to let me go. I cannot believe in a God who puts me through this torture. Maybe I have already leapt into Hell. Satan slowly scratches through my skin, to my blood, my organs, my soul. And he takes my soul and rips it to shreds and leaves me there alone for eternity.

I can’t decide if I’m melodramatic or psychotic. My brief, ever-lasting time on antidepressants turns me completely mad.

But of course, I do not know the culprit of my increasing insanity. I do not know that what is supposed to heal me instead wants to destroy me.

I am imploding.

 

*****

 

I miss my nothingness from the bottom of my crinkling, cracking, collapsing heart. I want to be void of all emotion, like usual.

Before I started going crazy, I talked frequently but said nothing. I stared blankly through my tearless eyes. I ceased to feel. And I was perfectly okay with that.

I want my brain to just shut up.

SHUT UP.

LEAVE ME ALONE.

I crave silence.

Now I feel so much. Too much. I cry so often that my eyes are permanently red and puffy, and I can’t put in my contacts; my eyes hurt so much. Too much. For mere moments I am dry; then the whimpering starts up again. I am pathetic. I let myself become vulnerable for the first time in so long, and I made myself get hurt. I should have never gone to see that stupid therapist, that ignorant psychiatrist. Everything is my fault. I hate myself. Why can’t I just go back to nothingness? Nothingness is calm. It is satisfactory. Yes it is lonely, but I don’t notice the loneliness usually, because I am so consumed in feeling nothing. I don’t feel happiness, but I also don’t feel sadness. A fair trade off. I merely exist and wait until I find a reason to live. To feel exhilaratingly, profoundly alive. Can someone tell me how that feels? I seem to have forgotten. Maybe I never knew to begin with.

I feel myself rapidly devolving. I see things that aren’t real, and I hear things in my head that aren’t me, and I dream up things that terrify me beyond my wildest imagination. I’m jumping and running around and drinking and laughing and smiling and erupting. And then I’m wilting and drooping and sobbing and dying.

And I’m so over it, but it doesn’t stop. I’m positive that it will never stop. Whatever it is, it has taken over me. It has inhabited my body, and it forces me to feel all of these things that I just don’t want to feel.

I crave my nothingness like an alcoholic craves vodka, a binge eater craves cake, a cutter craves razor blades.

Please give it back to me. Someone, anyone.

Can you hear me?

Misdiagnosed With Depression: A Circuitous Journey to Bipolar

October 2016

Today marks my first ever meeting with a psychiatrist. A good ole crazy people doctor for good ole crazy me.

The psychiatrist turns out to be a sweet, bubbly, round-faced young woman who looks more like a favorite elementary school teacher than a psychiatrist, but in a good way. I like her immediately. Finally, someone normal.

Side note: I get the whole psychiatrist thing. Decent money, and you get to learn about crazy people brains. Way more satisfying than being a therapist, if you ask me. I could do it, if, ya know, I don’t die first.

The psych takes me to her office and gets straight down to business screening me for mental illnesses. I find the process intriguing, yet highly flawed. I wish she could just see what’s in my brain and treat me that way, instead of relying on my responses to determine the problems with my life.

“Have you lost all interest in activities you usually enjoy?” Depression question, I think to myself. How can I be honest when I can essentially pick out my illness based on my answers?

“Do you have constant racing thoughts and worries?” Anxiety.

“Do you believe you have to do something over and over again, like turning your lights on and off or repeating certain words?” OCD.

“Do you sometimes suddenly feel intense negative emotions, such as fear, and physical differences, such as a racing heartbeat?” Panic disorder.

“Do you hate being the center of attention?” Social anxiety.

“Have you ever gone through or witnessed a traumatic event?” PTSD.

“Do you ever feel so excited or wired that you get into trouble and sleep less?” A manic bipolar state.

“Have you ever excessively exercised, taken pills, or starved yourself to keep your weight down?” Anorexia nervosa.

“Have you ever made yourself throw up to keep your weight down, or had periods of binge-eating followed by periods of starvation or purging?” Bulimia nervosa.

“Do you find yourself drinking or using recreational drugs more frequently than most of your friends?” Dependency.

The questions end as quickly as they started, and I wait for the shrink to see right through me, to recognize that I fabricated my responses, based on my hypotheses about which question matched each illness, and that I’m really not sick at all, I just know how to play the screening game.

But she’s not done yet. My psych then asks for my family’s mental health history. I tell her that my mom takes antidepressants. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. Naturally, like mother like daughter, I too am diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I know that mental illnesses consistently show a strong genetic basis, so I am not surprised. I’ve assumed I have depression since middle school.

But on top of the depression, the psych gives me a big ole dose of anxiety. I had recently started getting panic attacks before big tests, but I didn’t realize my physical responses differ from any other stressed college student. Oops. Generalized Anxiety Disorder it is.

Self-harm and self-hate and self-esteem, oh my.

The psychiatrist prescribes me Prozac, the exact same medication and dose that my mother claims, “Changed her life” in 2012. And that’s what I need, some serious life changing, if I’m ever going to get out of these doctors’ offices. I’m more than willing to take the pills.

The psychiatrist explains to me all possible side effects, including an increase in anxiety and suicidal thoughts. She mentions something called serotonin syndrome. I crease my forehead. Aren’t antidepressants supposed to alleviate those kinds of things? I think to myself. But I don’t question the good doctor. She tells me that these side effects, if they occur at all, should relieve themselves after about a week.

“And please don’t hesitate to call if you think you’re going to hurt yourself,” she reminds me as I’m leaving.

I snort. Do doctors really think a person who’s going to hurt herself decides instead to make a phone call? There’s no way.

I’m ready to get my ‘script and go.

I wait by the pharmaceutical window at the student health center for a good 30 minutes before I receive my first bottle for my brand-spanking, fresh-out-the-womb new diagnoses. Window lady tells me to take 10mg of Prozac for one week, and then increase the dose of 20mg. Easing into the medication supposedly stifles the side effects. I’m not too worried, I’d rather just get this show on the road, but I promise I’ll take the drugs as prescribed.

“The psychiatrist plans to evaluate your progress weekly for the next month, when the pills should reach their full effect. But it will be an uphill battle. One day you will wake up and realize how much better you feel, even if you’re not perfectly cured yet. I hope you get better soon.” She says this plainly, as if I have a cold or the flu.

I roll my eyes and swallow my first pill in front of her.

High Risk

October 2016

My school’s counseling service is pushed to the back and most depressing corner of the student health center. I find myself there, quite unamused by the set up. I decide that after this first, mandatory meeting, I will never come back. Therapy is overrated; even if I am labeled completely screwed up today, I figure I will talk to the doc, get some happy pills, and go on my merry way. Just like all the other screwed up people in this screwed up world. I’ve abandoned my screwed-up-ness before, and I usually resume my state of nothingness soon after an “episode”. Nothingness is second nature to me. Sweet and easy. Lonely, maybe, but it’s my strength. It’s my shield against the world. Absence of emotion. Void of feeling. Vacant. Cold.

Not just cold. Numb.

The receptionist, who is cute and happy and all of the things I am not, gives me a questionnaire to fill out before my meeting. It asks me questions like “Why are you here?” and “What do you hope to receive out of our services?” Most of my answers eloquently state, “I don’t know.” I want to say, “because you all won’t stop harassing me until I am evaluated,” but I know the receptionist hasn’t done anything wrong. She doesn’t deserve my highly irritated mood. I will save that for the shrink. I return the papers and sit down on one of the uncomfortable, faded blue couches.

I too feel uncomfortable and faded.

The girl across from me suddenly breaks out into tears. Her friends, I assume, hold her and pat her on the back and whisper just loudly enough for me to hear. They say love her and she is strong and she will be okay and blah blah blah. I cringe. I hate when people touch me. The thought of being surrounded in the heat and sweat of anyone, even my closest friend, is gag inducing. Luckily sobbing girl soon chills out. I wonder if I’m as crazy as she is, or perhaps even crazier. I’d rather stop wondering. Her soft crying echoes, but I look away, feeling cramped by the intimacy of it all. Nothingness.

I stare at the bolted metal doors placed around the waiting room. I watch therapist after therapist open them, smiling and exuding sickly warmth, too happy to be normal people. I accept that I will be missing my 10:00am chemistry class, and am even more pissed off than I was when I got here.

My name is called.

I glance up and see a grumpy old man staring at me, almost as unamused by the situation as I am. I follow him through one of the prison doors, twitching when I hear it slam and lock behind me.

I spend about 10 minutes complaining, then assuring him that nothing is wrong with my life, that I just had an itty bitty episode of craziness. He stops me. He is tired of listening.

He then proceeds to blatantly tell me that I will need extensive therapy for the rest of college. Probably for the rest of my life.

My nothingness turns back into intense frustration. Excuse me?

I wish I could see myself. My shocking, shameful, disaster-impending thoughts are surely expressed on my not-so poker face.

His calmness unfaltering, he asks when I am available for my next meeting.

Totally apathetic.

I don’t like him.

Aren’t therapists supposed to, like, make you feel like you can tell them everything in your pretty little psychotic mind? He is not doing so well on this front. But he explains that he is the emergency counselor, so I will see someone else next time.

Good.

I give the dude my most awkward, most favorite look: lips pursed, with the corners pulled slightly up, eyes wide, eyebrows raised. The face of nothingness: of seeing, of feeling, of thinking nothing. My friends recognize it easily. I use it when I am not amused with the situation.

I am not amused with the situation.

My eyes look left to right to up to down, refusing to meet his gaze. I reverse psychology him, giving him the “therapist silence” and waiting for him to speak. Instead he turns toward his computer to schedule my next appointment. Apparently being a “high-risk emergency” student means getting everything you want because he is able write me down for the upcoming Thursday. I groan. More missed classes for me.

He releases me from his sheriff’s office and allows me back through the metal doors and into the real world. The receptionist calls out “have a good day!” as I hurry out. I turn away, trying not to let her see the exaggerated rolling of my eyes.

I go outside and promptly burst into tears.

*****

Thursday morning arrives agonizingly slowly. I take the bus back to the health center and walk again to the armpit of the building. I check in with the same chirpy receptionist and wait my turn. At this point there is nothing that makes me feel crazier than being in this room with a dozen other depressed crazies.

A cookie cutter of a therapist calls my name. He smiles knowingly at me, like he’s seen millions of other hopeless cases. I smile back, like I’ve seen millions of other irrelevant therapists. What type of a person enjoys talking with hopeless people all day everyday? Not my type of person. He leads me to the dungeons.

Cookie Cutter therapist asks me to tell my entire fucking “story” all over again. Apparently the notes from Grumpy therapist aren’t enough.

“What brings you here today?”

“Someone called emergency services on me, and they forced me to make an appointment.”

“I see.” I rolled my eyes at his typical, just-like-in-the-movies therapy line. “Have you ever been in counseling before?”

“Yep. I came home from boarding school my junior year to see a therapist once a week.”

“Why?”

“Same stuff I guess.”

“How did that go?”

“I didn’t like her. She released me after six months. Said nothing is wrong with me.”

“And you haven’t gone to therapy since then?”

“Nope.”

“Have you ever seen a psychiatrist before?”

“Nope.”

“Have you ever had suicidal thoughts?”

I pause. “Sure.”

“Are you suicidal right now?”

“Nope.” Lie.

I continue talking, reminding him repeatedly that my life is essentially perfect, as far as high risk patients go: no abuse, no neglect, no molestation, no poverty. No obvious external triggers, just a fucked up brain here. Just like I told Grumpy.

I worry throughout our meeting that he will tell me there is nothing wrong with me.

I need there to be something wrong with me.

I need to understand why I’m different.

Well by the time I finish talking, he is decently confident that there is definitely something wrong with me.

“Okay,” he begins. “Unfortunately the school’s counseling and psychiatry services extend only up to a year for each student. We don’t have the capacity to keep students for longer. In my professional opinion, you need long term therapy, longer than what we can offer.”

Awesome.

“So we have a decision to make. You can either stay with me and transfer after a year, or I can set you up now with a therapist on the outside.”

“You can set me up with an outside therapist,” I respond, perhaps too enthusiastically. This dude makes me thera-pissed (ha). Happy-go-lucky and jolly and charismatic and ignorantly positive.

Totally empathetic.

I don’t like him.

“Okay, that seems like a good idea,” he replies with a smile. He probably sees right through me, probably hates me back and is more than willing to put me off on someone else. He turns his back to me and begins scrolling on his computer. He’s figuring out whose doorstep on which to drop me.

“I also want to refer you to a psychiatrist.” He softly stares at me, reading my body language before I respond. But I think seeing a shrink sounds good, if you consider darkness and hopelessness and anti-insanity drugs good. I shrug.

“The soonest appointment for a psychiatrist in the community is three weeks from now.”

My heart starts heavily beating, an oncoming panic attack racing through my veins. I need a psychiatrist to tell me what is wrong with me. I need a doctor now. I will not survive three weeks.

Cookie Cutter sees the fear in my eyes—I’ve finally given him an emotion. Fear. He turns around. After a few minutes of infinite silence, he lets out a small “a-ha” and looks contently in my direction.

“Back to our other option. If you choose to stay at the school’s counseling services, with me, our psychiatrist has an appointment available next week. You are very lucky; even the psychiatrists here often cannot meet with students for weeks.”

Like I said before: being a high risk patient works every time. I sure as hell don’t feel lucky, but I am relieved. Even if I have to stay with sugar cookie.

“Okay, let’s do that.” I nod curtly.

“Sounds good. She can meet you on Monday. And we can schedule another appointment for next Thursday, if that works for you?”

“It’s a date.” I can’t imagine a date I’d like to go on less than another one with Cookie Cutter.

I wonder briefly about how I allowed the school to rope me into all of this. But I feel a flutter of hope, deep in the corner of my desolate soul. I keep this hope to myself, not letting Cookie Cutter see it. But it’s there.

 

Introduction

On January 26th–12 therapists, 5 psychiatrists and 2 hospitalizations later–I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I cannot adequately describe the whirlpool of disorienting fear and terrifying relief I endured as my doctor delivered this information to me. I stared at him. He smiled at me. He told me I’d (probably) be okay, that a life full to the brim with handfuls of pills and stringent routines and constant therapy would (hopefully) manage my “mental illness.” And as utterly overwhelmed as I felt, I also felt the immense calm after the storm, in my pit of my stomach, telling me that it was okay to be crazy. It is okay. Four months ago I was misdiagnosed with depression. And the only thing crazier than a bipolar person is a bipolar person on antidepressants. Antidepressants keep serotonin in your brain longer, which often helps people with depression. But for a person with bipolar, like me (still weird to admit), the happy brain chemicals can force her into a manic state. And manic was I. This one was not what I call my “good” manias: rapid speech, shopping sprees, overdrinking, undereating, not sleeping, and lots of exhilerating disasters. This was one of my “bad” manias, my worst one to date. 16 weeks in my personal hell. I had daily panic attacks so severe that I felt I was dying, my heart beating so fast that I knew it would soon give out. My eyes were permanently bloodshot from tears. I couldn’t breathe. This drug-induced “bad” mania got me institutionalized. Twice. The nurses took away my shoelaces, my underwire, even my deodorant, and absolutely all of my dignity. I glared at the white, bleached walls of my jail cell and believed that was where I belonged forever. But, thanks to psychiatrist #5, my hell is gone, at least for now. I am beginning to hone in my crazy for the first time in my life. I am learning who I am when I’m not knee-deep in my mood swings. Most importantly, I am reminded every single day that I am so loved, by so many people, so much more than I deserve. You give me the strength to accept my diagnosis, to even get a tattoo to forever represent it. A bright pink arrow up for mania, and a dark blue arrow down for depression. Thank you.

 

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